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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chicago :: Smunderground!

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My first visit to Chicago was in 2007 – 3 girls + May 24 weekend = good times. We stuffed our faces with giant slices of French Toast, cheese-filled pizza, and oysters…ooh boy. It was ridiculously cold that weekend (Canada isn’t always colder than our Southern friends!) as we ran around, only stopping to stare at The Bean, snow sculptures by Millennium Park and wave red handkerchiefs to singing preachers.  4 years later, I was pleased to return and kicked off a 2.5 week visit with a little S&M.

Get your minds out of the gutter.

Smunderground-15I landed in Chicago and navigated my way to Smunderground via local train. I'm such a public transit nerd - I always make a point to take the subway/train/bus/etc. in a new city. Love love loved the system in Hong Kong.

Smunderground is run by an awesome foodie couple (S&M) who hitchhiked their way through Mongolia, love playing in their kitchen, and welcome people to their home to an “underground” supper. Not only did I enjoy a dinner with them and a group of Chicago’ans (Chicago-ites?) [after which I shamelessly crashed for half a day in their guest room…wow food coma sure hit hard!], but they also let me creep around their kitchen and watch them cook.

So creep I did, and I was elated to watch the wonderful dinner unfold.

For more details on the dishes, upcoming dinners, and the concept visit their blog here!
We started with deep-fried oysters that were breaded and placed in little pani puri shells:

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Smunderground-21I watched as M cracked the shells – they’re not as fragile as they look! It was also neat to see oysters being shucked up close…it’s actually much more work than I realized. How do the guys at Kensington Market and Sydney Fish Market do it all day?!

Anyways, the oysters were breaded, fried, and served in a sauce which everyone enjoyed. It was a nice way to start dinner, as everyone chatted in their cozy living room.

The fact that you're at their flat and the company is great is a huge part of Smunderground's charm. As I settle into my travel routine, I hope to find more of these gems - however, Chicago's culture seems to really nurture it! Perhaps I'll find them in NYC, San Francisco, and Vancouver too - I've heard about Toronto versions but have yet to experience one for myself.

Smunderground-25When dinner was ready to be served, we gathered at the table and a few people popped open the bottles of wine they brought – while we were all strangers, it was a great, personal setting. The first course was a rich soup served with bafia – an Indian wheat dumpling. Mmm.

We all really liked the chickpea cakes, below, and the coconut korma sauce with the bacon makes my mouthwater just thinking about it. The carrots were sous vide, which is one of the more interesting “appliances” in S&M’s kitchen. It’s a homemade rig that they used to make steaks as well, which were served later on.
Following that was a pile of lamb ragu, paneer and potato gnocchi with cardamom-cream sauce, and wonderful lamb loin/tenderloin medallions. The medallions were a hit at the table!
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The main was mm mm good – particularly the butter-poached crab. I could’ve chowed a whole plate of that, wrapped in daikon or not! The deep-fried chickpeas were an interesting try – inspired by a local Chicago restaurant. Oh how I wish I had a better camera that could deal well with low light!
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Don’t let the picture fool you – their sous-vide set up (above, RHS) is legit.

The ice cream was quite fun to watch them make. They used dry-ice, which rolled around their stand mixer as they played with different flavours. We were served cardamom caramel, ginger, and turmeric, and M made a pistachio cookie to go with them.
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This was a pretty unique way, I felt, to experience Chi-town. Good food, great people, and the locals gave me a list of things that they thought would be great to do in the city. What a perfect way to start my Chicago adventure.

If you're ever in Chicago and want to check them out, see their upcoming dinners on their website.

It was such a well-rounded dinner experience that I’d love to fly back to do it again! Well done, S&M! Looking forward to reading about your next culinary adventure…and even more to our next meeting :-)

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